Open seating plans, collaborative environments, and a highly mobile workforce: These are office hoteling best practices that have brought fresh energy to workplace design. Yet as with many new strategies that are favorably viewed by a wide cross-section of stakeholders, they have their share of unintended consequences, as well. On the opposite side of the collaborative benefits is the disruptive aspect of distractions from neighbors and, perhaps other things, too.
“Most companies are going with open plan layouts today, but it’s important that they offer more than just benching and cubicles,” said Tim Venable, senior vice president at CoreNet Global. “Employees need a variety of spaces, [above and beyond] bookable conference rooms, to accommodate a range of needs, preferences and work styles.”
Today’s push is to create a more diverse office environment that supports a variety of workstyles, from private, heads-down space and individual work areas to open collaborative zones.
“We’re creating inviting pantries and cafe spaces in prime locations with access to daylight and views and often adjacent to exterior spaces like a terrace or landscaped area,” said Louise Sharp, design principal at HLW, who is responsible for the firm’s interior architecture practice for the Los Angeles and Shanghai offices. Furniture is diverse, adds Sharp, with everything from comfortable lounge seating and bar height furniture to family-style dining tables, that allow staff to plug in their laptops, charge their devices and work both individually and collaboratively.
However, some employees are territorial than others and may hesitate to explore other seating options. That applies even when they’re offered a gorgeous cafe, comfortable lounge area or fun (and healthy) adjustable-height desk.
As Venable notes, people are creatures of habit. “They often sit in the same place because they’re more comfortable there, and in doing so they can exert a greater degree of control over their environment.” he said.“And yet some of the benefits of open plans—such as communicating and collaborating more often with different people—can’t be realized if nobody moves around.”
Flexibility for a New Workforce
One of the office hoteling best practices quickly taking off is unassigned seating. Cushman & Wakefield and CoreNet Global partnered to survey commercial real estate executives around the globe about the most pressing issues they’re currently facing. The What Occupiers Want 2018 research project includes feedback from corporations representing all portfolio sizes and industry sectors. A large majority of corporate respondents indicated that increasing office space flexibility is a key topic; they’re either introducing or testing agile workplace strategies including desk sharing. This is especially true in the Asia-Pacific region (85 percent) but is also a point of interest in the Europe-Middle East-Africa region (81 percent) and North America (71 percent).
The traditional concept of hoteling office space―unassigned seating that allows employees to reserve workspace before they come to work―has been revamped for modern users who can now access reservation systems through convenient mobile apps. The alternative is “hot desking” where employees select work stations when they arrive each day.
The terminology used to express ideas about workplace innovation doesn’t remain static. “Hoteling” sometimes refers specifically to the practice of allocating a certain number of desks for remote workers to use when they are in the office. Broader definitions, like “agile working” and “activity-based environments,” are focused around creating an entire environment—the open plan—where staff can work anywhere (i.e. not just at a desk).
“For employees (who already transferred to unassigned seating) and who have a special meeting planned or who simply need to know in advance where they’ll be sitting tomorrow, a central reservation system puts them at ease,” Venable said. “They do feel more secure when able to lock in a specific desk or seat.”
Employees can seek out a space that works well for them, where they know they will be comfortable, and that will help them be more productive. Phone booth-style units are increasingly popular, Venable noted; they provide privacy that’s often missing in open-plan settings, as well as an opportunity to escape distractions and attend to phone calls or tasks that require intense focus. “What’s important is that employees have choices and options on where they can sit depending on the type of work they will be doing,” he said.
Sometimes one of the most effective office hoteling best practices is working away from the office. According to research by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, 80 to 90 percent of the U.S. workforce would like to work remotely at least part-time. Respondents who are in favor of working at home two to three days a week opined that “heads down” work requiring concentration is best done at home without distraction, while collaborative work is better achieved face-to-face at the office.
Innovation is extending not only to office configuration but to furnishings. Research by workplace design scientists has revealed that 141 degrees is the most comfortable angle when two individuals are seated side by side engaged in conversation. Designed to that exact specification, the 141 Bench by Canadian manufacturer Keilhauer provides a stylish option for impromptu meetings that speaks volumes about how we’re working today. Also available with a high back for additional privacy, the 141 Bench could serve as a hoteling option for a visiting executive who occasionally touches down to catch up with direct reports.
The Work-anywhere World
“There are two primary drivers we’re observing—one is the efficiency of real estate, and the other is the need to adapt to a changing workforce and changing workstyles,” said Bronte Turner, principal & managing director at HLW London. Turner points out that not all employees feel tied to their desks.
The modern world of work has given way to the agile worker, who is able to identify the space that best meets his or her needs, even without an assigned desk. According to Turner, hoteling and unassigned desking increase the efficiency of the footprint used for dedicated workspace.
“In best practice, this trend makes way for other modes and spatial types, which support employees working ’in other ways.’ Work does not necessarily equate to sitting at a desk and looking at a computer,” Turner added. “Work and productivity come from so many other activities—meeting, thinking, sketching, networking. The list is endless, and these modes of work are not always done at one’s desk.”
Turner contends that the influence and improvement of “work anywhere” technology means that our workforce and what they need to be effective and productive has changed. Office hoteling best practices emphasize combining the agility created by technology with environments that enhance relationships and interaction within the office.
Driven by Technology
Office hoteling best practices also stress adequate electronic connectivity. Whether employees are mobile within the open plan office or working at home two days a week or at an off-site co-working location approved by the company, being able to easily plug and play and share files on the cloud is a must. And furniture in living room-like collaborative areas is being powered up so that employees don’t lose time searching for a place to recharge.
“We definitely see a growing portion of our client’s workforce sitting in unassigned desks or offices. This is driving innovations to make it easier for people to work in such an environment,” said Bruce Wells, director, marketing and design development at Innovant, a manufacturer of workplace furniture.
Innovant’s HotDesk application communicates with sensors in the furniture to provide desk booking, occupancy tracking and peer locating—all important components of a successful hoteling environment. The sensor is triggered when a smartphone, with the HotDesk application, is set on top of the dock, which allows Bluetooth Low Energy transmissions to send data directly from the cellular network to the cloud. As the phone’s battery is charging, it’s visible on the HotDesk application, which enables peer-locating and the tracking of important occupancy data for architects and building managers.
Hoteling proponents agree that the option to reserve desks in advance has reinvigorated the concept of desk sharing and will ensure that employees don’t feel like they’re playing musical chairs. They also suggest making sure unassigned desks are outfitted with an attractive plant or decorative object. If the space is absolutely bare, it might encourage employees to bring in their own knickknacks to their favorite desk in an effort to claim their territory.